The United States Senate Commerce Committee will be convening this week to debate the issue of “Net Neutrality,” specifically how it applies to the communications companies who wish to enable tiered fee structures for usage of advanced broadband networks, apart from or alongside the traditional internet infrastructure.
The issue, which I’ve outlined previously HERE, is essentially that Verizon and other communications companies have been spending vast sums of capital establishing their own broadband networks, apart from the internet proper. These companies would like to begin charging content providers a second set of fees, in addition to the fees they already pay for internet access, in order to access these secondary networks, which in many cases may be faster and “cleaner” than the traditional internet.
The problem is that a tiered fee structured could potentially create trust issues when, say, a content provider owned by Time Warner (for example) is competing for access to the same secondary network (also owned by Time Warner) with another company which may be owned by someone else. What we would have in that scenario would be the possibility of Time Warner enforcing their own editorial control over the content available to you, the user.
Hence, the debate over Net Neutrality.
Despite all the benefits of openness, it is at best unclear whether a commercial network
operator – particularly one with some degree of market power – would ever voluntarily
choose to design and run a network with the open characteristics of the Internet.
Ironically, this is very similar to what CDT’s Executive Dircetor, Leslie Harris, had to say on the subject almost seven years ago.
Not only can a gatekeeper limit what you can do on the Internet, it can exert extraordinary “editorial control” over content, selecting the information that is placed on its portal … The point is not that any particular company has or is likely to engage in such tactics, but that in an environment where competition is eliminated, such practices are possible.
Weitzner, citing sources as varied as Vint Cerf, the so-called “father” of the internet and Ed Whitacre, the CEO of AT&T had this to say:
… to suggest that competitive network services have no need of non-discrimination rules is to fly in the face of hundreds of years of common carriage tradition.
Ultimately the decision of whether or not to enact a neutrality protection law resides within the hallowed halls of the US Congress, the House having declined a similar measure put forth by Rep. Markey of Massachusetts. The question is will the honorable congress men and women heed the experts in the field, or the executives who barely understand the technology to begin with? Or (and this may be a truly radical thought) will they listen to the sound of votes changing color on the big red and blue map? Or perhaps the question is whether or not this has anything to do with those roses I received today?
One thing we can all agree on though, is that now would be a very good time to remember how to write your congressman a letter. Or, failing that, give them a call.